Istanbul: Even as domestic airlines struggle to cope with the grounding of Boeing aircraft, IndiGo, India’s largest carrier, is preparing to take delivery of 25 A321neo aircraft as part of plans to fly to more overseas destinations, including China.
IndiGo will take delivery of the aircraft over the next 12 months and will refit 15 of them with 220 seat-configurations. These 15 aircraft will be used to fly on long distance routes to destinations in Europe and busy domestic routes, including to and from cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, the airline’s chief commercial officer William Boulter said.
IndiGo’s A321neo will stop at one of the Middle Eastern airports for refuelling en route to European destinations.
IndiGo, which has an order book for 430 A320neo family jets, has upgraded 125 of its existing planes on orders to A321neos, which are more fuel efficient, can fly a longer distance, and seat more people. At present, IndiGo has more than 262 aircraft in its fleet, which include A320, A320neo (new engine options), ATR, and A321neo aircraft.
“We also have a plan to deploy A321neo aircraft domestically in busy airports such as Delhi and Mumbai as the A321neo gives additional capacity," Boulter said.
IndiGo flew to Europe for the first time on 20 March, using its first Airbus A321neo that was delivered last year— now fitted with an extra fuel tank and seating about 220—for the flight to Turkey. IndiGo’s A320neo aircraft, used widely by the airline to service its domestic routes and global destinations near India seat 186 passengers.
The airline aims to start operations to Asian destinations such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and China apart from European destinations such as the UK and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“We are in the process of getting all the certifications and permissions. To fly to China is a long process. But we’re hopeful this will happen in the summer schedule. So between April and October 2019, we will open China (operations)," Boulter said.
IndiGo cancelled several flights because of pilot shortage and bad weather last month, and has cut 30 flights daily during the summer schedule from 31 March to October. The airline has, meanwhile, stepped up hiring pilots. Recently, several pilots from Jet Airways, GoAir and other domestic airlines have joined IndiGo. “So reducing those 30 flights a day has enabled us to get the right size for flying as compared to the number of pilots we have," Boulter said.
On the recent rise in fares in the domestic sector, Boulter said that Indian airlines are now finally looking at profitability rather than selling massively discounted tickets like before. With the partial shutdown of the Mumbai airport and a section of Jet Airways, GoAir, SpiceJet (Boeing 737 Max) fleet grounded, capacity has been reduced, leading to a rise in airfares.
“A few months ago, other airlines were discounting drastically, but recently this has stopped and we saw yields generally improve. I think perhaps it was driven by the fact that many of our competitors were very much under the water in terms of making money," Boulter said.
IndiGo flew nearly 5 million domestic passengers in February and had a market share of 43.4%. The carrier operates more than 1,300 flights daily.
Rhik Kundu is in Istanbul at the invitation of IndiGo.